Wednesday, July 28, 2010


John Smeaton has posted some comments I emailed him the other day on why Catholicism and the pro-life movement go together.

He had to cut things short, since I tend to ramble on when not given a strictly enforced word-count limit.

But I thought it might be worth taking the points along to a conclusion that some in the pro-life world might find uncomfortable. While it is easy to see that the pro-life position must be held by Catholics, and it makes sense that being an atheist would give one some serious philosophical problems with holding the full, comprehensive pro-life position, there are problems that extend in another direction too.

I offer below the rest of my intolerant views on the subject:

Protestantism is uniquely disabled in its fundamentals in giving answers to the abortionist world. The fundamental Protestant principle is that an individual judges for himself what to believe. This is why there are thousands or even tens of thousands of Protestant sects.

Protestantism is a kind of religious entropy, in which the trend ultimately is towards total dissolution, a steady state in which each individual man stands alone with his unique, private interpretation of God. Because of this, a Protestant may take or leave the pro-life position as he wishes. There is no such thing in the Protestant world as a unified, authoritative voice that can say, ‘This and not this, is true.”

Of course, I must add my caveat. I do not say that there aren’t any Protestant pro-life advocates, or that Protestant pro-life advocates are somehow inferior to Catholics as individuals. Indeed, even a brief acquaintance with the pro-life world will quickly disprove such prejudices. But there is no necessity, either logical or juridical, for a Protestant to hold the pro-life position, and no coherent, authoritative voice within Protestantism that tells the individual whether his private judgment on the life issues is correct.

The point is that it can only be as an individual that a Protestant becomes dedicated to the pro-life cause. He has chosen it based on his private judgment that it is a good and worthy thing. No one would ever say, “Protestantism teaches…” in the same way as one would say, “The Catholic Church teaches…”

A Protestant who holds pro-life positions holds Catholic positions. But, because of his Protestant principle of private judgment, he must necessarily hold back on the fullness of the pro-life position when it clashes with his Protestantism. (This is why so many Protestant pro-life groups refuse to answer questions, for example, about contraception. Though we have seen this wall coming down in recent years.)

Catholic teaching on life and family is inextricably connected with its teaching on the Trinity, on the Eucharist, on Mary and the cult of the saints. Nothing can be removed and taken in isolation. This is why its doctrine cannot be changed, as can Protestant doctrine, by committee meetings such as the Lambeth Conference or the Southern Baptist Conventions. Catholicism does not vote on the truth any more than mathematicians vote on axioms.

The pro-life position is one that is based on observation of external moral and physical phenomena. Outside reality, not personal opinion or preference or feelings, must guide, and the Catholic Church’s magisterial authority concerns itself exclusively with this external reality. It does not care what the world says, what its angry, disinformed members say, what the scientific community says. The truth is what it is.



Anonymous said...

I read with alarm that you will speak at a Youth Defence conference in Dublin later this year.

My understanding is the conference centre is in the process of cancelling the Youth Defence booking.

Simon Platt said...

That's a nasty comment to make anonymously. Still, I hope Hilary lets it stand.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I shrug.

It's why I don't like getting links. It gives the impression that everyone is welcome.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


inuendo, guilt by association, and hiding your identity...

yep, that's a Smite.

When you can man up to your opinions, "Anonymous," you might be allowed back.

Until then, you might want to examine the commbox rules which are posted on the sidebar.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Excuse me. Did you see what I posted above?

The rules about identifying yourself are strictly enforced here, Anon.

I am not at all averse to having this discussion, or to having it in the commbox. But no one may make any comment here if he is not willing manfully to own up to what he is saying.

Until you avail yourself of the option to give a real name, your comments will continue to be deleted.

Anonymous said...

Also, most Protestants tend not to believe in absolutes on moral issues. So Protestant prolifers will alway differ to the will of the mother in "hard cases". Its' not that they believe that you can do just anything that you want to; it's that you can do anything if you have a good reason.

Agatha James

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

if you have a good reason...


you really really want to...

davideashby said...

Hi Hilary,
In the blog you say that adopting frozen embryos is not morally licit and that there's a church document saying so. Do you have a reference for that Church document? It's just that a fairly recent book by Janet Smith called Life Issues says that the issue is still being debated, and I had imagined that the debate would have gone the other way since by adopting a frozen embryo you give him or her a chance at life.
Thankyou and God bless
David Ashby

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Apparently not sorry enough (Peter) to man up to them.

David, the issue of "embryo adoption" is one that is still somewhat contested in the pro-life community. A lot of very good thinkers have come out in favour. I had not realised that Janet Smith had been among the pros, but the Vatican ruled on it some years ago. I'll look it up for you.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

It's Dignitas Personae, "On Certain Bioethical Questions".

LifeSite did a thing on it here:

Hank Rhody said...

As a Lutheran I guess it's up to me to come in and speak a word in defense of protestants.

There is an authority that all protestants are bound by; the bible. To be a protestant you have to be a Christian, to be a Christian you have to believe the Bible is true. If you start from the same "Thou shalt not kill" that the Bible originally laid down you'll get to the same conclusion with respect to pro life issues. Of course, the problem is that each protestant has to work this out on their own.

It's useful to be able to say "The church teaches that", but when push comes to shove you'll have to understand exactly why you believe what you believe. This is true for Catholics as well as protestants. Tell me, when you did your research into the truth of Catholic doctrine, what authority did you believe when you came to your conclusion? It wasn't because the church said so; if you were going to believe it on that ground you wouldn't have been rebelling against your parochial school to start with. (Well, maybe not.) You believed because you tested the logic and found it to be true. The chance of accidental schism is greatly reduced if you don't jump to conclusions and if you check what different theologians in different churches say about a particular issue.

As far as the schismatic nature of protestants, yeah, that tends to happen. But when you're talking about it, remember also the Catholics who willfully believe church doctrine to be whatever they want it to be. This is most visible in politicians. In my representative's autobiography he talks about personally being against abortion but not wishing to force his morality on others a few pages before he crows about his advancement of the social gospel. I only wish that was a hypothetical example.

My basic point is the first principles are in the Bible. Any christian who studies them and takes them to their proper conclusion ought to end up on the pro life side of things. It isn't a matter of personal opinion, it's a question of whether you've done your homework.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

"If you start from the same "Thou shalt not kill" that the Bible originally laid down you'll get to the same conclusion with respect to pro life issues."

Indeed, as I said in John Smeaton's piece. The difficulty comes in when you take the bible by itself. Sola Scriptura. The trouble is that nowhere in the bible does it say that the bible is inerrant. And if it did, it would be meaningless.

I have been told by Protestants, "I believe it is so because the bible says so." When I ask, "How do you now the bible is right?" I get "It says so in the bible."

Circular reasoning.

Whereas, when a Catholic says, "The scriptural assertion 'thou shalt not kill' is objectively true," he does not need to follow it with, 'because the bible says so". Instead, he is able to say, "because it is in accordance with the Natural Law and by right reason that were instilled in the human heart by the hand of God,".

Sola Scriptura negates the work of God in the human heart. Something of an irony, in fact.

The Catholic Church understands that the bible is inerrant on the authority of Catholic Tradition. The Church came first, and it is by the authority of the Church that the bibles was codified.

We know the bible is inerrant indeed, because the Church says it is. And we know that the Church was founded by Christ, not because the bible says so, but because the people upon whom He founded it were there when He did it.

How Protestants can imagine that the bible predates the Church is beyond me, since the bible itself talks about the Church already in existence.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

and as for "some Catholics" believing anything they want, we call that "heresy". And we are able to do so because there is an objective standard to which to compare their ideas. There's no such thing as "heresy" in Protestantism. Only a new sect.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame you deleted my comment. My name is Louise O' Donnell.

Rick said...

The final paragraph of your post is simply superb. It is the shortest yet most precise statement of the pro-life position that I have ever read.

Nicely done, Hilary.

Daniel A. said...

I'm not sure why that first comment is controversial here, but I do want to ask: are you indeed speaking at a Youth Defence Conference?

I worked with Youth Defence a lot when I was living in Ireland, and they are an excellent group of pro-lifers. They seem to have a gift, however, for getting their events cancelled. I was helping with a talk in Galway that got shut out of the auditorium that had been booked and had to be given in a hallway.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Pro-life movement factionalism. Youth Defence joined SPUC and a few others in opposing the referendum a few years ago. The bishops were in favour so there has been a faction in the pro-life world that has been bad mouthing them.

Nothing new under the sun...

Felix said...

As Hilary says, ultimately the basis for opposing abortion, eutheanais, infanticide etc is that these are contrary to the Natural Law (ie God's law).

And this gives ballast to an orthodox, traditional reading of Scriptural injunctions against murder. Remove it, and you haven't got much argument against revisionists.

BTW, Orthodox Jews are also anti-abortion (for most circumstances) but on the basis that it's against G-d's revealed law (specifically, the law revealed to humanity through Noah).

However, Catholics shouldn't be complacent. Modern Catholics oppose abortion and other evils as being contrary to "human dignity". This concept has no discernable criteria and tends to reflect whatever the proponent favours.

But, on the positive side, the authentic Catholic on abortion has led several lawyers, doctors etc to the Church.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to see you criticise the Irish Bishops.A small group of pro-lifers.Dana,Youth Defence/Mother and Child dissented and cost the Irish an important referendum in 2002.

A Youth Defence representative Justin Barrett tried to allege Cardinal Trujillo condemned the Irish Bishops' pro-amendment stance.

Barrett had some cheek challenging the Roman allegiance of the Irish Bishops. It turned out that the Holy See's position, annunciated by Cardinal Ratzinger (what's he doing now?) was in favour of the amendment.

It was interesting that Justin Barrett spoke at Neo-Nazi events in Germany and Italy. This is in the public domain.

Louise O' Donnell

Anonymous said...

Daniel A,

Youth Defence has tarnished pro-life activism on many college campus in Ireland.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


I continue to thank God that that referendum failed. And anyone who still thinks the Catholic bishops of Ireland are defending the faith have not been keeping up with the news. It is the naivete and the blind clericalism of Catholics that has allowed the current disaster in the Catholic Church around the world.

And please, spare me the "they're all crypto-Nazi" slurs.

Heard em.